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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Fighting Our Own Battles: Using Technology to Educate People on The Sikhs!

Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 in Discussion | 0 comments

safe_image.phpIt always pleases me when I see organizations like SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Fund) stepping up to actively educate people about the the Sikh turban. It seems like it’s an ongoing series of battles, even though we have been living here in America for over a century!

Caused primarily by ignorance and misunderstanding, several community activists and Sikh American organizations are actively engaged to overcome this bias by spreading awareness and educate our fellow American brothers and sisters. They are working with the legislators, educators and other community leaders and organizations. Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, SALDEF has launched a historic new media initiative on behalf of Sikh Americans, with first ever PSA (Public Service Announcement) by a Sikh American – Waris Ahluwalia, an actor, writer, and designer. Please take a moment to view it above and you can read more about the initiative HERE

Under different circumstances and in a different land, the Sikh turban has a long history representing a revolutionary voice against oppression, ever since Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion donned it the first time more than 500 years ago. Below is a video slide show of my Punjabi poem “ਪੱਗ ਦੀ ਸਾਂਝ,” (Pag di Saanjh with English subtitles): a Tribute to the Sikh Turban that I sang to add to this dialogue and hopefully instill pride, respect, and understanding in its history and all it represents.

The importance of not only educating others, but educating ourselves on the history of the Sikh turban and contextualizing it is especially important today when it has become almost a standard part of a Sikh boy’s educational experience to be called “Osama,” or “terrorist,” simply because people don’t know who the Sikhs are or what the turban represents.

Sikhs have been in the United States for over a century. It’s about time our fellow Americans knew!

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Happy International Women’s Day From Madera, California with the American Association of University Women and my Punjabi Poem with English subtitles: “Daughters”

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in Discussion | 2 comments

On Friday and Saturday, I celebrated International Women’s Day locally in Madera California with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), where I was kindly invited to introduce my poem, “Dhean,” or “Daughters.” Both events were organized by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which has been empowering women since 1881! It was a matter of great privilege for me to have been invited for both these occasions. The Galloway Hall at the Madera Public library and the conference room at the Methodist church were filled by women and children of all ages. There were 17 other speakers, along with some wonderful children’s dance groups.

AAUW Galloway Room Library Picture

AAUW Galloway Room Library Picture

Me with President AAUW Madera

Standing with some of the members of AAUW Madera, including the President

I was the only male speaker present and it was humbling to hear the very personal stories other speakers shared. Ileana Herera shared her story of suffering domestic violence and overcoming it. She was married and pregnant at 18. She endured beatings during her pregnancy by her husband, and is now a survivor, bravely sharing her experience to educate and give hope to victims of domestic violence. Offering her advice she said,” if you don’t do anything, your hope is false. You can’t rely on someone changing their ways. You must act.”

There are many areas that need improvement, but there is also much to celebrate of the progress made in women’s rights. But it was not always like this. Women’s rights groups have been pivotal in the strides made, and should be commended for this.

In Western countries, when we think of inequality of human rights, gender based violence or the most horrific acts of violence against women around the world, such as acid attacks, female genital mutilation, sex slavery, child marriage, honor killings, feticide, to name a few, we tend to assume these are things that only happen in “Third World” countries, far away from us, or places that don’t have democratic governments or are ruled by religious zealots. But the reality is that it happens everywhere, including right here in the United States. Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Former Secretary of State called gender-based violence “an issue of international human rights and national security.”

300px-Guru_nanak_sri_lankaGuru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion understood it as no easy task to change people’s age old mindset. He declared it in no uncertain terms 500 years ago in the poetic verse from the Guru Granth Sahib – the Sikh Holy Scripture, on page 473: “ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣ ਵੀਅਹੁ ॥ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥ ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਬੰਧਾਨ ॥ ਸੋ ਕਿਉਂ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥

This roughly translates in English to: “She is the one to whom we are born. In her womb develops life.  She is the one who makes friendships, becomes a lover, a wife and a partner in procreation and it is through her we make relations with others.  It is from the woman the creation goes round. If someone loses his wife he looks for another one. After all she is the one who gave birth to the bravest of the brave and king of kings. So don’t say she is a lesser person than a man.”

When I first wrote my poem, I imagined a very small number of people would be interested in it, not just because it was written in Punjabi, but because the subject matter is one that is not often addressed: daughters. My son, Navdeep, convinced me to write an English translation, and soon after that we created a moving image slideshow set to my voice, which we uploaded to youtube. It was wonderful to be able to share this particular poem with the AAUW.


I wrote this poem as a father, brother, husband and as a grandfather. Although I completed the poem recently when the news of feticide and dowry related violence started to get worse in India, I had been thinking about it for some time. I had first listened to the famous singer Noor Jahan’s rendition of a Punjabi song a while ago.

Here is the original video by Noor Jehan:

Starting with the lyrics, “Eh Puttar Hattan te Nahi Wikde, Aven na Takkran Mar Kure” roughly translated in English, meaning: “our sons cannot be bought in the market place, they are a gift from god.” How so very much I loved the tune and the very melodious voice of Noor Jehan, the lopsided message of what was left unsung in this song always irked me. If sons cannot be bought at the marketplace, what is being implied about daughters? Are they not a gift from god? Are they expendable or replaceable? Praising only sons, I thought the lyrics of this song knowingly or unwittingly further reinforce the age old stereotype. Read the full Kavita di Kahani (Story behind the poem).

  • Through this poem, I wanted to tell that, daughters are an equally a precious blessing.
  • I wanted to draw attention to the frightening statistics of feticide as well as to the curse of dowry in India.
  • I also wanted to make this poem stand out as a tribute to ‘daughters of the world’ and make it accessible to those who do not speak Punjabi by adding English sub-titles.
  • But more importantly, I wanted to slowly make people think and change the age old mindset.

If you like this poem, please share this post with others, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or on my Facebook fan page.


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Which is Better: Acappella (voice only) or with Musical Accompaniment?

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Audio Download, Punjabi Poetry | 1 comment

A few years ago when I published my first collection of poetry, Diva Bale Samundron Paar, I also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful musicians and a recording studio in Chandigarh. On my upcoming trip to India, I am going to take some of my poems and collaborate with more traditional musicians, like tabla and dilruba players. I will post that on here when it is ready in February! In the meantime, check out both versions of my previous album – with musical accompaniment and without. Let me know what you think!

Awaaz te Parvaaz (a cappella – my voice only, without musical accompaniment)

Awaaz te Parvaaz (with musical accompaniment)

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New Album: Toon Sathon Mukh Na Morhin (a-cappella)

Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Audio Download | 1 comment

As many of you know, I usually sing my poems a-cappella (without musical accompaniment). My son, Navdeep, helped to setup a recording studio in my home so that I can do more a-cappella recordings, which is more familiar and comfortable to me, but I am interested in experimenting!

Have a listen to my latest album and let me know what you think:

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Know Your Poets: Mohanjit

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Discussion | 0 comments

MohanjitI have always enjoyed reading Mohanjit’s poetry. His poems have a haunting quality to them, where at first glance they seem to be about one thing, but the more you think about it, the real thrust of the poem begins to emerge. One of my favorite poems of his is titled, “Sanwad,” meaning a dialogue. It is a poem that seems to be about two people having a conversation and somehow it becomes a profound meditation on how we as individuals never truly stop what we’re doing to engage in the simple act of talking to each other.Mohanjit is a Punjabi Poet, critic and translator, who was born in village Adliwala, Amritsar in 1938. He is now settled in Delhi and has published eight books of Punjabi poetry, including Sehkda Shehar, Varvrik, Turde Phirde Maskhare, Ki Nari Ki Nadi, Datan Wale Boohe, Ohle Wich Ujiara, Goorhi Likhat Wala Varka, Hawa Piazi. He has won several awards, including the Param Sahit Sanman. He has also participated in many national and international seminars, and scripted, as well as voiced documentaries for Jalandhar and Door Darshan.Here is his poem, “Sanwad,”  in Gurmukhi, which I have loosely translated into English below:
ਓਹ ਤਾਂ ਇਕ ਪੀਰ ਸੀ
ਜੋ ਦੂਜੇ ਪੀਰ ਨੂੰ ਮਿਲਿਆ
ਇਕ ਕੋਲ ਦੁੱਧ ਦਾ ਨੱਕੋ ਨੱਕ ਭਰਿਆ ਕਟੋਰਾ ਸੀ
ਦੂਜੇ ਕੋਲ ਚਮੇਲੀ ਦਾ ਫੁਲ
ਮੱਥਿਆਂ ਦੇ ਤੇਜ ਨਾਲ ਵਸਤਾਂ ਅਰਥਾਂ’ਚ  ਬਦਲ ਗਈਆਂ
ਅਸੀਂ ਤਾਂ ਵਗਦੇ ਰਾਹ ਹਾਂ
ਕਿਸੇ ਮੋੜ ਕਿਸੇ ਚੁਰਾਹੇ ਤੇ ਮਿਲਦੇ ਹਾਂ
ਜਾਂ ਇੱਕ ਦੂਜੇ ਤੋਂ ਨਿਖੜ ਜਾਂਦੇ ਹਾਂ
ਓਹ ਵੀ ਇੱਕ ਚੁੱਪ ਦਾ ਦੂਜੀ ਚੁੱਪ ਨਾਲ ਸੰਵਾਦ ਸੀ
ਇਹ ਵੀ ਇੱਕ ਚੁੱਪ ਦਾ ਦੂਜੀ ਚੁੱਪ ਨਾਲ ਸੰਵਾਦ ਹੈ
Loose English Translation:
He was one hermit who met another hermit. One had a bowl full of milk and the other a jasmine flower. Unspoken words of wisdom exchanged in silence between them turned these objects in to profound meanings. We on the other hand as countless wayfarers meet each other at turns, cross roads of life only to be separated. That was a dialogue of one silence with another silence. This too is a dialogue between one silence and the other.
The beauty of the language Mohanjit uses in the original flows beautifully and he uses colloquial expressions that lose all of their flavor when translated, such as “nako-nak,” which I translated simply as “full,” but the meaning is probably closer to “filled close to capacity or to the brim,” but that sounds too cumbersome.  And I am no translator, just someone who wants others to help realize how wonderful the meaning of his poetry is. There are many other lines in there that create the tone and mood, and lets his rural upbringing as well as his knowledge of Sakhis from the life of Baba Nanak to infuse his poems.
This poem is very much rooted in a well known story from the life of Baba Nanak during his travels, more intimately referred to as Udassies.
Baba Nanak travels to Multan, a vibrant city that the following Persian Sher characterizes in

Char cheezen tohfa-e-Multan ast
Gard-o-Garma, Gada, Gorsatan ast

The above Sher roughly translates to: “Four special gifts of Multan are dust, heat, beggars, and burial grounds.”

The other hermits of Multan who were plentifull in numbers, heard the news of Baba Nanak – a new hermit– arriving in this City of Saints and didn’t want another hermit encroaching on their “turf.” To send him a message that he was not needed and that they were contented with their accomplishment, they sent him a bowl filled with milk, which Baba Nanak quickly understood meant there is no more a room for another hermit in Multan. Baba Nanak held the bowl in his hands and after closely examining the bowl, instead of drinking from it, he took out a jasmine flower from his pocket, and placed it afloat on the surface of the milk. He then sent the bowl back. The hermits of Multan read between the lines and were impressed at this silent yet symbolic dialogue of minds that produced no heat, only light that transformed these objects to profound meanings!

I leave you with a short video to further ponder over the implication’s of Mohanjit’s poem.  It is of a 4 year old boy – Rajan Singh Aujla, singing Babbu Mann’s song: Ik Baba Nanak Si:

What did you make of Mohanjit’s poem?

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